Archive for the ‘science’ Category

A health story to smile about… :-)

Here’s a healthcare-related story to smile about:

Researchers at Osaka University in Japan set out to determine whether music and laughter interventions would reduce blood pressure in one of two situations: immediately after listening to music or laughing and after three months of one-hour interventions that took place once every two weeks.

The scientists signed up 79 people between 40 and 74, who were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Thirty-two listened to music, 30 were assigned to a laughter group, and 17 neither listened to music nor participated in laughter sessions.

After three months, researchers say blood pressure significantly decreased, by nearly 6 mmHg, among those who listened to music. It decreased by 5 mmHg among those who took part in sessions designed to make them laugh.

When put in the context of ~10 mmHg blood pressure reductions observed with pharmaceutical monotherapies, shouldn’t we perhaps be prescribing music and laughter for those with mild to moderate hypertension?

Including these ‘therapies’ would at least make new Phase III hypertension clinical trials more fun wouldn’t they…? 😉

Categories: healthcare, science

We’re all doomed!!

2011-03-21 1 comment

I came across two articles over the weekend that resonated with me, both putting forward the case that – despite what the mainstream media, public policy ‘experts’ and the political class would have you believe – we are not doomed. Indeed, there is a lot to be positive about.

The first article is a plea from a German physicist in response to the hysterical reporting of the Fukashima incident:

The media suggests a nuclear catastrophe, a mega-meltdown, and that the apocalypse has already begun. It is almost as if the 10,000 deaths in Japan were actually victims of nuclear energy, and not the earthquake or the tsunami. Here again one has to remind us that Fukushima was first hit by an unimaginable 9.0 earthquake and then by a massive 10-meter wave of water just an hour later … Yet, after an entire week, the apocalypse still has not come to pass. Only relatively small amounts of radioactive materials have leaked out and have had only a local impact. If one considers the pure facts exclusively, i.e. only the things we really know, then it exposes the unfounded interpretations of scientific illiterates in the media. One can only arrive to one conclusion: This sorrowful state will remain so.

The second article takes in a wider perspective, and ties into something I hope to write about shortly – namely how the mainstream media continues to pump out scare story after scare story (and how in general we keep on being taken in):

Why do we insist on ruining the life that we have – which for those of us who are children of the 40s and 50s, is probably the best anyone has ever known, by living in fear of the life we might not have come tomorrow morning….? Enjoy today! Go on, fry a salmonella egg with some dioxidic Danish bacon, slip it between two trans fatty acid spread slices of cancer creating white bread, sup a mug of cancer causing hot tea, and reflect on the fact that you are still alive, you can still whinge about how bad life is – or you could reflect on your good fortune to have been of a generation and a country that has enjoyed a more privileged life than 99.9% of the world.


New way to bury bad news – get a sexy woman to read it…

2011-01-29 1 comment


I came across another scientific study today that once again left me wondering if I had gone into the right area of research back when I was a PhD student.

In an apparent attempt to capture channel-surfing male viewers, stations have hired attractive female anchors, often outfitting them in attire that emphasizes their sexuality.

This strategy may boost the ratings, but in terms of the programs’ purported purpose — informing the public — recent research suggests it has a definite down side. Males may be drawn to those alluring anchors, but they may not remember what they were talking about.

Unfortunately, the full paper is not freely available. However according to the news coverage:

[The investigators] created two versions of their own short newscast, both of which featured the same 24-year-old female anchor.

For the first version, the broadcast journalist “was dressed in a tight-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt that accented her waist-to-hip ratio,” they write. “She also wore bright red lipstick and a necklace.” For the alternate version, she was dressed in “a shapeless and loose-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt,” and wore no lipstick or necklace.

“The anchorwoman was framed in a medium-long shot to reveal her upper body, including her upper thighs, waist and hips,” the researchers note. “The news stories were about local matters, including United Way fundraising, interest rate changes for federal loan programs” and the like.

Watch out, here comes the science bit!

The just under 400 participants were randomly assigned to watch one version or the other. All then filled out questionnaires summarizing their impressions of the reporter. They were also asked four multiple-choice questions about her physical appearance, and 10 multiple-choice questions about the content of the five stories she presented.

The researchers found the men recalled “significantly more information watching the unsexualized anchor deliver news than her sexualized version.”

 In conclusion, and the reporter couldn’t really have put it any better:

It also confirms something women have long suspected: A sexually charged image can flood the male brain, stimulating its visual processing component “to levels that demand close to full cognitive capacity.”

Someone please tell me – where do you get funding for research like this…? 😉

Categories: science

Is actively giving smokers a known carcinogen ethical?


Let’s get this out of the way straight away: I’m not a smoker. With that in mind, you might think that I would welcome the headline article that I spotted on the BBC News website today, “Smoking ’causes damage in minutes’, US experts claim“:

Smoking damages the body in minutes rather than years, according to research in the US.

The report, published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, shows that chemicals which cause cancer form rapidly after smoking.

Scientists involved in the small-scale study described the results as a stark warning to people considering smoking.

Anti-smoking charity Ash described the research as “chilling” and as a warning that it is never too early to quit.

The long term impact of smoking, from heart disease to a range of cancers, is well known. This study suggests the damage begins just moments after the first cigarette is smoked.

My first reaction was a rather prolonged Gallic shrug. This is news?! Quite frankly, the concept that inhaling a large amount of tar, nicotine and thousands of other exotic compounds might start doing your body no good straight away is not an unexpected finding.

Secondly, people who smoke these days are pretty much aware of the potential damage that they might be doing to themselves. I doubt that this study will change anyone’s views on this either way and, as a libertarian, I believe that what people do with their own bodies is no-one’s business except their own.

However, the major problem that I have with this story relates to the following section from the study abstract:

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are among the likely major causative agents for lung cancer in smokers. PAH require metabolic activation to exert their carcinogenic effects, and one important pathway proceeds through a three-step sequence resulting in the formation of diol epoxides, which react with DNA to produce adducts that can cause mutations and initiate the carcinogenic process. However, no previous published studies have examined this critical pathway in humans specifically exposed to PAH by inhalation of cigarette smoke … Twelve subjects each smoked a cigarette to which [D10]phenanthrene had been added.

This aspect of the study has already been addressed by Leg-Iron over at his blog; however, it is worth repeating: we have a clinical study, funded by the US National Cancer Institute, where a known carcinogen was actively administered to human study participants.

The full study manuscript is not freely available, so it is not possible to check the methods section for details of how this design got ethical approval. Would be good to know more, since without further explanation I think that this sets a dangerous precedent…

Scientists show Mediterraneans ‘get it up’ more easily


We all know that those Mediterraneans have it pretty good – nice weather, good food, relaxed lifestyle, lovely countryside, etc, etc, ad nauseam. Well, it’s not news that a major factor behind why the locals seem to have long, relatively disease-free lives is largely a result of their diet: lots of unsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil), fish, nuts and so on.

An article cited on Twitter recently caught my eye, as it would appear that scientists (yep, them again) have shown that said diet can also significantly improve erectile dysfunction.

Actually, this is also not surprising. Systemic damage to the vasculature is exactly that – if you have managed to screw up your arteries and veins in your heart and brain, there’s no reason why the same damage hasn’t been done to the rather more delicate issues located elsewhere. However, what got me thinking was how this study was run… Think about it, and then tell me honestly how you think the experiment was conducted…? 😉

A little research on PubMed pulled up another scientist who quite clearly chose a much more interesting field of study than mine ever was – take a bow, Katherine Esposito of the University of Naples, who published this in 2006:

Esposito K, et al. Mediterranean diet improves erectile function in subjects with the metabolic syndrome. Int J Impot Res 2006;18(4):405-10.

Men with the metabolic syndrome demonstrate an increased prevalence of erectile dysfunction (ED). In the present study, we tested the effect of a Mediterranean-style diet on ED in men with the metabolic syndrome. Men were identified in our database of subjects participating in controlled trials evaluating the effect of lifestyle changes and were included if they had a diagnosis of ED associated with a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, complete follow-up in the study trial, and intervention focused mainly on dietary changes. Sixty-five men with the metabolic syndrome met the inclusion/exclusion criteria; 35 out of them were assigned to the Mediterranean-style diet and 30 to the control diet. After 2 years, men on the Mediterranean diet consumed more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain, and olive oil as compared with men on the control diet. Endothelial function score and inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein) improved in the intervention group, but remained stable in the control group. There were 13 men in the intervention group and two in the control group (P=0.015) that reported an IIEF score of 22 or higher. Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole grain, fruits, vegetables, legumes, walnut, and olive oil might be effective per se in reducing the prevalence of ED in men with the metabolic syndrome.

Turns out Dr Esposito didn’t feed a bunch of fat blokes olive oil and garlic, show them porn and then whip out a tape measure… The participants stuck to a diet and then ‘self-reported their sexual performance’ using the International Index of Erectile Function questionnaire. Not quite as fun, I’m sure you’ll agree.

My suggestion for Dr Esposito’s next study is to determine whether there is a direct inverse correlation between increased sexual performance following adherence to a Mediterranean diet including lots of stinky garlic, and the number of opportunities to make use of that increased performance… 😉

Categories: science, sex, silliness

Bust size and hitchhiking: who said science is boring…?

>For anyone thinking that science (specifically psychology) is a bit dull, you’ve clearly been reading the wrong journals… Take this particularly pleasing example:

Yes, you read that right:

To test the effect of a woman’s bust size on the rate of help offered, 1200 male and female French motorists were tested in a hitchhiking situation. A 20-yr.-old female confederate wore a bra which permitted variation in the size of cup to vary her breast size. She stood by the side of a road frequented by hitchhikers and held out her thumb to catch a ride. Increasing the bra-size of the female-hitchhiker was significantly associated with an increase in number of male drivers, but not female drivers, who stopped to offer a ride.”

I have to tip my hat to Dr Guéguen; having looked through some of his (I assume that it is a ‘he’, although I realize that is based purely on the fact that I would have loved to have done the research myself) other published articles, he has been able to get funding for some truly original fieldwork, albeit with entirely predictable outcomes:

  • Gueguen N. The receptivity of women to courtship solicitation across the menstrual cycle: a field experiment. Biol Psychol 2009;80(3):321-4. “It was found that women in their fertile phase, but not pill-users, agreed more favorably to the request than women in their luteal phase or in their menstrual phase”
  • Guéguen N, et al. Sound level of environmental music and drinking behavior: a field experiment with beer drinkers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2008;32(10):1795-8. “High level volume led to increased alcohol consumption and reduced the average amount of time spent by the patrons to drink their glass”
  • Guéguen N, et al. Women’s eye contact and men’s later interest: two field experiments. Percept Mot Skills 2008;106(1):63-6. “Longer duration of eye contact was associated with an increase of smiling.”
  • Gueguen N. Women’s bust size and men’s courtship solicitation. Body Image 2007;4(4):386-90. “It was found that increasing the breast size of the female confederate was associated with an increasing number of approaches by men.”

So, in summary, the inevitable conclusion is that success in any number of life’s trials and tribulations for women can be made significantly more likely by purchasing an inflatable bra now available from all good retailers… 😉

PS: Just spotted a fantastic quote in that last link: “”We predict women all over the UK will be storing these in their desk drawers ready for the mistletoe moment with the office hunk. Plus they’re easily and quickly deflated when Nigel from Accounts approaches after a few glasses of mulled wine.”

Categories: science, sex

‘United Nations of Science’ – nice idea that will never work


I recently came across an interesting article in NewScientist, ‘The United Nations of science: why we need it‘, written by a Lorna Casselton, foreign secretary of the Royal Society (??) and Emeritus Professor of Fungal Genetics at the University of Oxford.

In it, Prof Casselton introduces the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP):

“[The IAP is] a global coalition of national science academies from Albania to Zimbabwe. Its task this week is to agree a way forward for scientific advice to government – how the world of science, speaking as one, can reach out to policy-makers to help solve the critical global challenges we now face.”

So far so good – as a scientist by training myself I can relate to that. She continues:

“The organisation’s ambition is to become the most influential voice for the world’s scientists amid the clamour of politicians and lobby groups.

IAP is also working hard to promote better science education, support young scientists and improve science communication. This is especially important in the developing world: IAP strives to help the poorest countries build their science, technology and advisory capacities and thus champion robust, evidence-based policy-making.” (my emphasis)

 You see, here’s where it all goes wrong. Prof Casselton starts her piece with:

“As the disappointment of the Copenhagen climate summit sinks in, you could be forgiven for despairing of science ever being put at the centre of international policy-making. But scientists are not giving up the fight.”

Far from being any sort of disappointment, the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit was a great result for all those who have been following the incredible revelations from across the world that the case for anthopogenic global warming was completely overstated at best, and a complete fabrication and corruption of the scientific process at worst (have a look at the Watts Up With That blog for further details).

Quite frankly, I would have expected better from an Oxford Professor (although as a Cambridge alumnus perhaps I’m not surprised!) – I would love her in a follow-up article to explain how exactly climategate equates to ‘robust, evidence-based policy-making’.

For me, climategate shows pretty well the dangers of scientists getting involved in politics (Prof David Nutt did and look what happened to him). They should stick to doing their experiments and advancing our body of knowledge; leave the dirty business of deciding what to do with the results to the politicians!

Categories: science